Malaysia’s top Islamic body on Saturday ruled against Muslims practicing yoga, saying it had elements of other religions that could corrupt Muslims.
The National Fatwa Council’s non-binding edict said yoga involves not just physical exercise but also includes Hindu spiritual elements, chanting and worship.
“It is inappropriate. It can destroy the faith of a Muslim,” Council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin told reporters.
He noted that clerics in Egypt issued a similar edict in 2004 that called the practice of yoga “an aberration.”
Though the council’s decisions are not legally binding on Malaysia’s Muslim population, many abide by the edicts out of deference, and the council does have the authority to ostracize an offending Muslim from society.
The Malaysia fatwa reflects the growing strain of conservatism in Malaysia, which has always taken pride in its multi-ethnic population. About 25 percent of Malaysians are ethnic Chinese and 8 percent ethnic Indians, mostly Hindus.
Recently, the council issued an edict banning tomboys, ruling that girls who act like boys violate the tenets of Islam.
The Fatwa Council took up the yoga issue after an Islamic scholar last month expressed an opinion at a seminar that it was un-Islamic.
But yoga teacher Suleiha Merican, who has been practicing yoga for 40 years, called yoga “a great health science” and said there is no religion involved.
“We don’t do chanting and meditation. There is no conflict because yoga is not religion based,” Merican, 56, told The Associated Press.
There are no figures for how many Muslims practice yoga, but many yoga classes have a sprinkling of Muslims attending.
Putri Rahim, a housewife, said she was no less a Muslim after practicing yoga for 10 years.
“I am mad! Maybe they have it in mind that Islam is under threat. To come out with a fatwa is an insult to intelligent Muslims. It’s an insult to my belief,” Putri said.
In a recent blog posting, social activist Marina Mahathir criticized the council for even considering a yoga ban, calling it “a classic case of reacting out of fear and ignorance.”